By Evelyn Reid
But in other parts of the world, the issue of child marriage is not that cut and dry.
In the bigger picture of Sinthiou Mbadane, a small cluster of villages in Senegal located over 80 km southeast of capital city Dakar and 7 km away from the closest city, M'Bour, marrying off girls sometimes as young as age 8 is tradition, culture, it's a way of life that's persisted for generations, often a necessity to counter the sting of extreme poverty.
Twenty-four-year-old New York filmmaker Jemery Teicher captured the essence of the practice in what I consider a remarkable film on the subject, Grand comme le Baobab, French for Tall as the Baobab Tree, a feature length fiction based on true events surrounding child marriage played out by actors who aren't actually actors. Rather, they're villagers from Sinthiou Mbadane who, in the words of Teicher, “are on the absolute cusp of a new era ... you have schools becoming a part of their lives for the first time in history.”
Ka made a short film sharing her belief that if girls were offered the choice, they would choose an education over early marriage.
With the Montreal World Film Festival hosting Tall as the Baobab Tree's international English premiere on August 28, 2012, a film in competition in the First Films World category, I had a chance to talk with Teicher about what went in to avoiding the usual stereotypes and/or unintended sanctimony often associated with Africa-related issues presented the big (and small) screen. Notwithstanding how he managed to direct a group of inexperienced rookies to perform so convincingly, how did Teicher win over the exceptionally conservative Fulani tribe enough to let the rest of the world peek inside their homes in the first place? How did the then 23-year-old persuade the Fulani to give viewers a chance to understand them, to relate to them, and to watch them, albeit in the context of fiction, air out what amounts to a very personal cultural debate within their village, a historical turning point, one that, contrary to westernized belief, is far more complex than meets the eye.